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Release Date: October 8, 2009

Baroque Spain's Remarkable Painted Sculptures Joined for the First Time by Great 17th–Century Spanish Religious Paintings, On View at the National Gallery of Art
February 28–May 31, 2010

Attributed to Juan Martinez Montañés Immaculate Conception (la Purisma), about 1628 polychromed wood University of Seville

Attributed to Juan Martinez Montañés
Immaculate Conception (la Purisma), about 1628
polychromed wood
University of Seville

Washington, DC (Updated February 18, 2010)—Masterpieces created to shock the senses and stir the soul are spotlighted in The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700, on view at the exhibition's only U.S. venue―the National Gallery of Art―from February 28 through May 31, 2010. This landmark reappraisal of religious art from the Spanish Golden Age includes 11 paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán, and others, displayed for the very first time alongside 11 of Spain's remarkable polychromed (painted) sculptures, many of which have never before left Spain and are still passionately venerated across the Iberian Peninsula in monasteries, churches, and processions.

During the Spanish Counter-Reformation, religious patrons, particularly the Dominican, Carthusian and Franciscan orders, challenged painters and sculptors to bring the sacred to life, to inspire both devotion and emulation of the saints. The exhibition brings together some of the finest depictions of key Christian themes including the Passion of Christ, the Immaculate Conception and the portrayal of saints, notably Pedro de Mena's austere Saint Francis Standing in Ecstasy (1663), which has never before left the sacristy of Toledo cathedral.

By installing polychromed sculptures and paintings side by side, the exhibition shows how the hyperrealistic approach of painters such as Velázquez and Zurbarán was clearly informed by the artists' familiarity―and in some cases direct involvement―with sculpture. During this period, sculptors worked very closely with painters, who were taught the art of polychroming sculpture as a part of their training.

The Sacred Made Real is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the National Gallery, London, where it was on view from October 21, 2009, through January 24, 2010.

"We hope that this exhibition will convey the artistic excellence and spiritual profundity of Spanish baroque art to our visitors," said Earl A. Powell III. "We are grateful to the museums and Spanish ecclesiastical institutions that have agreed to lend these exceptional works, which together provide an illuminating and powerful experience."

Exhibition Support

The exhibition in Washington is made possible by the generous support of Robert H. Smith, The Charles Engelhard Foundation, and an anonymous donor.

The exhibition is presented on the occasion of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union, with the support of the Ministry of Culture of Spain, the Spain–USA Foundation and the Embassy of Spain in Washington, DC. This exhibition is included in the Preview Spain: Arts & Culture '10 program.

Additional support for the Washington presentation is provided by Buffy and William Cafritz.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Exhibition Background

A crucial loan to the exhibition, Zurbarán's masterpiece The Crucifixion (1627) from the Art Institute of Chicago achieves an astonishing sculptural illusion on canvas. When seen in close proximity to Juan Martínez Montañés' polychromed sculpture of 1617 from the Church of the Convent of Santo Ángel, Seville, these two art forms begin an intense natural dialogue.

In Seville, Francisco Pacheco taught a generation of artists, including Velázquez (later his son-in-law), the skill of painting sculpture as an integral element of their training. Pacheco himself painted the flesh tones of superb wooden sculptures carved by fellow Andalucian artist Montañés, known by his contemporaries as "the god of wood." Among the most important examples of their collaboration is their life-size Saint Francis Borgia (1624) from the Church of the Anunciación, Seville University, commissioned by the Jesuits to celebrate Borgia's beatification that year. Another highlight of the exhibition is the fascinating juxtaposition of Velázquez's The Immaculate Conception (1618–1619) from the National Gallery, London, with Montañés' exquisite polychrome sculpture of the same subject (c. 1628) from the Church of the Anunciación, Seville University.

To obtain even greater realism, some sculptors such as Pedro de Mena and Gregorio Fernández introduced glass eyes and tears, as well as ivory teeth, into their sculptures. In one of Mena's most proficient works, Mary Magdalene Meditating on the Crucifixion (late 1660s), the artist used several strands of twisted wicker for his subject's long flowing hair and animal horn for her toenails.

Throughout Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain, some 17th-century polychrome sculptures are still carried through the streets by religious confraternities, particularly in Seville, Granada, and Valladolid—the most important centers of this art. One such processional sculpture included in the exhibition is the Pietà (c. 1680–1700) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

During the evening of Palm Sunday, Seville's Archicofradía del SantÍsimo Cristo del Amor (Confraternity of the Christ of Love) process a life-size sculpture Christ on the Cross by Juan de Mesa. The exhibition features a smaller version of this work (c. 1621), which although non-processional, plays a vital role in the pastoral life of the confraternity.

Zurbarán's heightened illusionism shows an acute understanding and appreciation of sculpture, as seen in the brilliant handling of drapery in his painting, Saint Serapion (1628) from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, which is among the artist's greatest achievements. The saint's luminous white habit cascades with astonishingly rendered folds of deep shadow. Here, Zurbarán demonstrates that painting can indeed achieve the same disconcerting realism as sculpture.

The religious art of 17th-century Spain pursued a quest for realism with uncompromising zeal and genius. Painting and sculpture are distinct arts, but The Sacred Made Real shows how, in 17th-century Spain, they were drawn together in the service of ardent devotion and the quest to appeal to religious sensibilities.

Curators and Exhibition Catalogue

The curator of the exhibition is Xavier Bray, assistant curator of 17th-and 18th-century Spanish and Italian paintings, National Gallery, London. The curatorial coordinators in Washington are Mary L. Levkoff, curator of sculpture and decorative arts, and David Alan Brown, curator of Italian and Spanish paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Published by the National Gallery, London, in association with Yale University Press, the exhibition catalogue features scholarly essays on the technical aspects of polychroming sculptures, patronage, individual artists' training and careers, public reception of their works, and an assessment of how these sculptures are still used today in a Spanish religious context. A biographical section on each sculptor and painter in the exhibition is included. The 224-page catalogue with 185 color illustrations is available from the Gallery Shops. To order, call (800) 697-9350 or (202) 842-6002; fax (202) 789-3047; or e-mail [email protected].

Exhibition Films

Produced by the National Gallery, London, The Sacred Made Real documentary explores the traditions and rituals surrounding 17th-century Spanish polychrome sculpture. The film reveals how the close collaboration of sculptors and painters played a key role in the development of Spanish art. It includes exclusive footage of the sculptures in situ and as part of Holy Week processions in Seville.

Making a Spanish Polychrome Sculpture, produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a 12-minute film that explains the process of creating a polychromed sculpture. Digital animations and footage of a sculptor and a painter demonstrate the techniques current in 17th-century Spain.

With minor exceptions, these films will be shown in the East Building Small Auditorium Monday through Friday from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. and on weekends continuously during public hours; they will be shown in the East Building Auditorium on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays at 11:30 a.m.

General Information

For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]
Anabeth Guthrie
Chief of Communications
(202) 842-6804
[email protected]

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